Part V: A twist in the road
By Julie . . . My story now takes an unforeseen turn through a few events I couldn’t imagine would get me to where I have ended up.
I wrote this note on my Facebook page after Derek Chauvin was pronounced guilty for the murder of George Floyd: “My heart is heavy since the verdict of Derek Chauvin. For the past year, seeing the video of what he did and watching the trial each day, I felt it only fair that he be held responsible for his actions in causing George Floyd’s death. And even right up to the moment when he got up from his chair and turned to be handcuffed, I wondered if he felt the terror that he caused another person to feel.”
And then when they walked him through the door, as they started him on his march to prison, right in that moment, I felt a deep sadness. Why? Because it made me relive my niece being led through a similar door in another courtroom three years ago. I couldn’t protect her. I couldn’t know if she was going to be okay or what she would be going through. But I knew that the trauma from her past got her where she was heading.
Since then, I have seen how the system, day after day, fails people who are incarcerated. They are further traumatized. They have little to no support systems. And the cruelest aspect of it all is that often the people charged with their care and support add to their trauma.
These are people who have made mistakes and are no worse than you and I, people who don’t have a voice, are treated inhumanly, stripped of their rights and their dignity. Shame and guilt build, and hopelessness becomes their way of life for the time they are held. Many are people who, like my dear niece, in a moment in time made bad decisions that changed their lives forever as well as the lives of those they love and those they harmed. Can any of us say we could never be in the same situation? But for the grace of God, I could have been an abuser; I could have even been a murderer and killed my father. One cannot judge what one has not gone through in the exact moment of a perfect storm.
As I watched Derek Chauvin walk through that door after the announcement of his guilty convictions, I imagined the abyss he was walking into. Like the abyss that my niece walked into, it grieved me deeply.
Accountability is necessary. Those who harm others and those who break society’s laws are responsible for their decisions, and there are consequences that need to be faced. But those consequences should not include being a victim of hate and abuse, even being at risk of death, inside our prison walls. My niece is abused and tormented because she bears the label “sex offender.” Derek Chauvin may well be abused, tormented, and harmed because he is a law enforcement officer.
Along with accountability, along with consequences, there must be the opportunity for change, for growth, and for redemption. There must be understanding and compassion and forgiveness. Christ set the example by embracing and loving the worst of us.
No one wins when people are hurt. Hurt people hurt other people, and the cycle of pain and violence continues. Everything done must be focused on an outcome of rehabilitation. Violence inside prison walls does not foster this outcome. Neither do post-release punitive measures such as the sexual offense registry, which limits and restricts the choices, the opportunities, and the rights, of a registered person without providing a safety component to the public.
Thinking about these things raised the question of where my compassion was for my own father. That really brought me to my knees. I didn’t have any. And yet I didn’t know anything about what my father’s past could have been. What made him the man that would harm children, strangers and his own children? I will never have that answer. He’s gone, and I have only his prison records and transcripts from his cases. I actually have victim statements from one. I finally know that much of the truth, and that has to be enough for closure for me.
And now I must face a decision I was unable to consider until now: What do I do with the rest of my life?
Read the conclusion to Julie’s story, Part VI, Putting the pieces together, Wednesday, 7/14.